Behold the Gold Dome, behold the media – and weep|
Georgia Online News Service
Georgia, we have a problem. It's called leadership – or more precisely, a lack thereof.
We elect politicians to do . . . well, something, depending on political philosophy or partisan affiliation. Of the two major institutions that impact our civic and economic well-being &mdsh; government and business – we have direct influence via election over only one.
But we're losing that power, and the loss is accelerating. Here's how that affects you: Georgia's economy ranks with besieged-by-automakers-failure Michigan as among the very worst in a nation that has stumbled badly. Our school system perpetually vies for worst in the nation.
To fix our transportation system in Georgia – and here I'm just speaking of the metro Atlanta area – will cost at least $60 billion. If we funded nothing else but trains and roads and dirigibles and whatever else to unclog Atlanta, we'd eat up just about every dime of state revenue for the next three years.
And water – that drought that caught our attention two years ago is still with us and isn't going away – will likely cost more than $200 billion to remedy in a permanent and sustainable fashion. Oh, and it will mean curtailing growth, either now while we still have a chance of fixing things and creating a viable protracted strategy, or later after Georgia resembles Death Valley and what's left of our economy has fled to other states.
The list of this woebegone state's problems goes on and on and on, and that begs the question: How the hell did we let this happen? And how the hell do we fix it?
That brings us to what's happening today at the Gold Dome. The huge, huge problems of the state are barely mentioned (as in, I'll bet $2 in Confederate money that Gov. Sonny Perdue and the General Assembly fail to act in any meaningful way to create the Big Fix needed for transportation). The Republicans are grateful for the diversion of a money shortfall, of course. Everyone is in a dither about a projected $2 billion black hole in the $20 billion budget, as they should be, but not as a substitute for resolving the catastrophes that confront Georgia. The Republicans would like to ax as much as possible from programs that really help people, and borrow a ton of money (as in, leave the bill to our kids and grandkids) to make ends meet. The Democrats chide that approach, but are left with the always unpopular alternative of taxation.
Why is taxation such a dirty word? After all, it merely represents us – society – paying for the things that benefit the common good. But in the South (and much of the rest of the nation) there's the attitude that taxes come from the rich to help the poor, and that a better approach would be reverse Robin Hood-ism. Let the rich bask in the glow of their gold, and stick it to the poor. Just ask Glenn Richardson.
The 2008 General Assembly session is generally accorded the dubious accolade of being one of the least productive in recent history – in the sense of fashioning constructive laws to build Georgia. The only priority of most of the legislators seems to be bartering their favors to the highest bidding special interests. Now the pundits are dismally predicting the 2009 session will be even more backward.
Behind all of this is another sinister story: The demise of the media. The bottom line for citizens is that state and local officials can get away with being the worst of the worst because there are damn few real reporters left to blow the whistle on them.
The failure of the press, especially metropolitan daily newspapers, isn't at fault for the lousy condition of state government. But it is an enabler.
America and Georgia have done best when there has been a vibrant and courageous media. In this state, for example, the awful legacy of racism would have been confronted someday – but the courageous editorials of The Atlanta Constitution's Ralph McGill pushed us, finally, out of the 19th century.
The plight of the media isn't new, despite what the press lords blather. They abandoned their sacred trust decades ago in the name of industry consolidation, city monopolies (as Cox has in Atlanta), and the next quarter's profit and loss statement. They gutted the one thing that made the press essential for success – the grand content of great journalism. The media have failed at the one task the Founding Fathers saw as so essential they enshrined it in the First Amendment.
So people – you – abandoned the "old" media.
Forget the hogwash from the left that the media is too conservative. Or from the right that the press is liberal. Both are true, both are not true.
More important than left or right, the whimpering media have become beholden to government. The newspaper and broadcast industries have cravenly sought government's favor to drive out competition. And the result has been media dominated by a lack of challenge to whoever is in power at the time. The press's current hallmark is blandness and shallowness in reporting. The level of public discourse has plunged – indeed, more than a few polls show that the more people listen to talk radio, the less they actually know. What's imperiled – and this isn't rhetorical hyperbole – is our ability to govern ourselves. Without an informed public, we are little more than slaves.
At a practical level, the dolts who run this state, Republican and Democrat, get away with it because the media have been eviscerated. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, once the fierce and toothy watchdog of the state, is now just an impotent old hound. The paper's Cox family owners have emasculated themselves by destroying content – to the point that reports in recent days are that the newspaper is losing $1 million a week and its continued survival is in jeopardy. At a different level, the news organization for which I worked many years, Creative Loafing, is in worse shape than the AJC. And for the same reason. The corporate bosses forgot why their newspaper existed: to inform.
As I said above, lack of competition breeds sloth and stupidity, and evolution of one species (in this case, traditional media) stops.
That's why an entity called the Georgia Online News Service (GONSO) came into existence. Think of us as the little mammals scurrying around the feet of the dying dinosaurs. We may not be quite so noticeable yet, but we do have survival characteristics.
A year ago, those of us who founded GONSO were appalled by the awful state of public policy in Georgia and equally appalled at the awful state of the media. We took advantage of the dual crisis. In Atlanta and throughout Georgia, the best journalists in the state had been thrown overboard by the media giants, mostly the AJC. We said, "Wow! These are the very people who created great journalism. These are the people who can once again fulfill the roles of stimulating public debate. These are the people who can hold public officials accountable."
These people are GONSO. We're offering the treasure they mine and refine to the news outlets in Georgia. It is our contribution to rebuilding what should be one of the nation's greatest states.
John F. Sugg is a founder and executive editor of the Georgia Online News Service. Previously he has held senior editing and writing positions at Creative Loafing, The Miami Herald, The Atlanta Constitution, The Tampa Tribune and American Lawyer Publications. Sugg has won more than 40 awards for column writing, editorials, investigative reporting and business writing.
John F. Sugg is executive editor of the Georgia Online News Service. [full bio]